Bass (sound)

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Bass voice range. Bass voice range.png
Bass voice range.
Alberti bass in Mozart's Piano Sonata, K 545 opening. Play (help*info) Mozart k545 opening.svg
Alberti bass in Mozart's Piano Sonata, K 545 opening. Loudspeaker.svg Play  

Bass ( /bs/ BAYSS) (also called bottom end) [2] describes tones of low (also called "deep") frequency, pitch and range from 16 to 256 Hz (C0 to C3) and bass instruments that produce tones in the low-pitched range C2-C4. They belong to different families of instruments and can cover a wide range of musical roles. Since producing low pitches usually requires a long air column or string, and for stringed instruments, a large hollow body, the string and wind bass instruments are usually the largest instruments in their families or instrument classes.


Use in composition

In musical compositions, such as songs and pieces, these are the lowest-pitched parts of the harmony. In choral music without instrumental accompaniment, the bass is supplied by adult male bass singers. For an accompanied choir, the bass is typically provided by pipe organ or piano (or if a choir can afford to hire one, by orchestra). In an orchestra, the basslines are played by the double bass and cellos, bassoon or contrabassoon, low brass such as the tuba and bass trombone, and the timpani (kettledrums). In many styles of traditional music such as Bluegrass, folk, and in styles such as Rockabilly and big band and Bebop jazz, the bass role is filled by the upright bass. In most rock and pop bands and in jazz fusion groups, the bass role is filled by the electric bass. In some 20th and 21st century pop genres, such as 1980s pop, hip hop music and Electronic Dance Music, the bass role may be filled with a bass synthesizer.

Musical role

When bass notes are played in a musical ensemble such an orchestra, they are frequently used to provide a counterpoint or counter-melody, in a harmonic context either to outline or juxtapose the progression of the chords, or with percussion to underline the rhythm.

Rhythm section

In popular music, the bass part, which is called the "bassline", typically provides harmonic and rhythmic support to the band. The bass player is a member of the rhythm section in a band, along with the drummer, rhythm guitarist, and, in some cases, a keyboard instrument player (e.g., piano or Hammond organ). The bass player emphasizes the root or fifth of the chord in their basslines (and to a lesser degree, the third of the chord) and accents the strong beats.

Kinds of bass harmony

In classical music, different forms of bass are: basso concertante, or basso recitante; the bass voice of the chorus; the bass which accompanies the softer passages of a composition, as well as those passages which employ the whole power of the ensemble, generally played by the violoncellos in orchestral music; contrabass (“under bass”), is described as that part which is performed by the double basses; violoncellos often play the same line an octave higher, or a different melodic or rhythmic part which is not a bassline when double basses are used; basso ripieno; that bass which joins in the full passages of a composition, and, by its depth of tone and energy of stroke, affords a powerful contrast to the lighter and softer passages or movements. [3]

Basso continuo was an approach to writing music during the Baroque music era (1600-1750). With basso continuo, a written-out bassline served to set out the chord progression for an entire piece (symphony, concerto, Mass, or other work), with the bassline being played by pipe organ or harpsichord and the chords being improvised by players of chordal instruments (theorbo, lute, harpsichord, etc.).

"The bass differs from other voices because of the particular role it plays in supporting and defining harmonic motion. It does so at levels ranging from immediate, chord-by-chord events to the larger harmonic organization of an entire work." [4]


As seen in the musical instrument classification article, categorizing instruments can be difficult. For example, some instruments fall into more than one category. The cello is considered a tenor instrument in some orchestral settings, but in a string quartet it is the bass instrument. Also, the Bass Flute is actually the tenor member of the flute family even though it is called the "Bass" Flute.

Examples grouped by general form and playing technique include:

A musician playing one of these instruments is often known as a bassist. Other more specific terms such as 'bass guitarist', 'double bassist', 'bass player', etc. may also be used. [5]









Music shows and dances

With recorded music playback, for owners of 33 rpm LPs and 45 singles, the availability of loud and deep bass was limited by the ability of the phonograph record stylus to track the groove. [6] While some hi-fi aficionados had solved the problem by using other playback sources, such as reel-to-reel tape players which were capable of delivering accurate, naturally deep bass from acoustic sources, or synthetic bass not found in nature, with the popular introduction of the compact cassette in the late 1960s it became possible to add more low frequency content to recordings. [7] By the mid-1970s, 12" vinyl singles, which allowed for "more bass volume", were used to record disco, reggae, dub and hip-hop tracks; dance club DJs played these records in clubs with subwoofers to achieve "physical and emotional" reactions from dancers. [8]

In the early 1970s, early disco DJs sought out deeper bass sounds for their dance events. David Mancuso hired sound engineer Alex Rosner [9] to design additional subwoofers for his disco dance events, along with "tweeter arrays" to "boost the treble and bass at opportune moments" at his private, underground parties at The Loft. [10] The demand for sub-bass sound reinforcement in the 1970s was driven by the important role of "powerful bass drum" in disco, as compared with rock and pop; to provide this deeper range, a third crossover point from 40 Hz to 120 Hz (centering on 80 Hz) was added. [11] The Paradise Garage discotheque in New York City, which operated from 1977 to 1987, had "custom designed 'sub-bass' speakers" developed by Alex Rosner's disciple, sound engineer Richard ("Dick") Long [12] that were called "Levan Horns" (in honor of resident DJ Larry Levan). [13]

By the end of the 1970s, subwoofers were used in dance venue sound systems to enable the playing of "[b]ass-heavy dance music" that we "do not 'hear' with our ears but with our entire body". [14] At the club, Long used four Levan bass horns, one in each corner of the dancefloor, to create a "haptic and tactile quality" in the sub-bass that you could feel in your body. [15] To overcome the lack of sub-bass frequencies on 1970s disco records (sub-bass frequencies below 60 Hz were removed during mastering), Long added a DBX 100 "Boom Box" subharmonic pitch generator into his system to synthesize 25 Hz to 50 Hz sub-bass from the 50 to 100 Hz bass on the records. [16] In the early 1980s, Long designed a sound system for the Warehouse dance club, with "huge stacks of subwoofers" which created "deep and intense" bass frequencies that "pound[ed] through your system" and "entire body", enabling clubgoers to "viscerally experience" the DJs' house music mixes. [17]

A crew sets up a sound system, including large bass bins, in Jamaica in 2009. Sound System.jpg
A crew sets up a sound system, including large bass bins, in Jamaica in 2009.

Deep, heavy bass is central to Jamaican musical styles such as dub and reggae. In Jamaica in the 1970s and 1980s, sound engineers for reggae sound systems began creating "heavily customized" subwoofer enclosures by adding foam and tuning the cabinets to achieve "rich and articulate speaker output below 100 Hz". [18] The sound engineers who developed the "bass-heavy signature sound" of sound reinforcement systems have been called "deserving as much credit for the sound of Jamaican music as their better-known music producer cousins". [19] The sound engineers for Stone Love Movement (a sound system crew), for example, modified folded horn subwoofers they imported from the US to get more of a bass reflex sound that suited local tone preferences for dancehall audiences, as the unmodified folded horn was found to be "too aggressive" sounding and "not deep enough for Jamaican listeners". [20]

In Jamaican sound system culture, there are both "low and high bass bins" in "towering piles" that are "delivered in large trucks" and set up by a crew of "box boys", and then positioned and adjusted by the sound engineer in a process known as "stringing up", all to create the "sound of reggae music you can literally feel as it comes off these big speakers". [21] Sound system crews hold 'sound clash' competitions, where each sound system is set up and then the two crews try to outdo each other. [22]


The use of subwoofers to provide deep bass in film presentations received a great deal of publicity in 1974 with the movie Earthquake which was released in Sensurround. Initially installed in 17 U.S. theaters, the Cerwin Vega "Sensurround" system used large subwoofers which were driven by racks of 500 watt amplifiers which were triggered by control tones printed on one of the audio tracks on the film. Four of the subwoofers were positioned in front of the audience under (or behind) the film screen and two more were placed together at the rear of the audience on a platform. Powerful noise energy and loud rumbling in the range of 17 Hz to 120 Hz was generated at the level of 110–120 decibels of sound pressure level, abbreviated dB(SPL). The new low frequency entertainment method helped the film become a box office success. More Sensurround systems were assembled and installed. By 1976 there were almost 300 Sensurround systems leapfrogging through[ colloquialism ] select theaters. Other films to use the effect include the WW II naval battle epic Midway in 1976 and Rollercoaster in 1977. [23]

See also


  1. Benward & Saker (2003). Music in Theory and Practice, Vol. I, p.168. ISBN   978-0-07-294262-0.
  2. Cooper, Michael (August 1, 2002). "How to Get Great Bottom End In Your Mix". Electronic Musician . Retrieved September 14, 2019.
  3. Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "Bass (music)"  . Encyclopedia Americana .
  4. Cadwallader, Allen (1998). Analysis of Tonal Music: A Schenkerian Approach, p. 45. ISBN   0195102320.
  5. Pouska, Andrew. "The Role of the Bass | Basics". StudyBass. Retrieved 2020-09-18.
  6. Kogen, J. H. (October 1967). "Tracking Ability Specifications for Phonograph Cartridges". AES E-Library. Audio Engineering Society . Retrieved April 24, 2010.
  7. "Mastering for vinyl vs. mastering for CD". Masterclass Professional Learning. April 12, 2007. Archived from the original on August 21, 2007. Retrieved April 24, 2010.
  8. Krukowski, Damon (17 June 2015). "Drop the Bass: A Case Against Subwoofers". Pitchfork. Retrieved 31 December 2018.
  9. Brewster, Bill; Broughton, Frank. The Record Players: DJ Revolutionaries. Black Cat. p. 64
  10. Lawrence, Tim. “Beyond the Hustle: Seventies Social Dancing, Discotheque Culture and the Emergence of the Contemporary Club Dancer”. In Ballroom, Boogie, Shimmy Sham, Shake: A Social and Popular Dance Reader, ed. Julie Malnig. University of Illinois Press, 2009. p. 204
  11. Hill, Adam J.; Hawksford, Malcolm O. J.; Rosenthal, Adam P.; Gand, Gary. "Subwoofer positioning, orientation and calibration for large-scale sound reinforcement". Audio Engineering Society Convention Paper 7981, presented at the 128th Convention, May 22–25, 2010, London, UK
  12. Brewster, Bill; Broughton, Frank. The Record Players: DJ Revolutionaries. Black Cat. p. 64
  13. Krukowski, Damon (17 June 2015). "Drop the Bass: A Case Against Subwoofers". Pitchfork. Retrieved 31 December 2018.
  14. Lawrence, Tim. “Beyond the Hustle: Seventies Social Dancing, Discotheque Culture and the Emergence of the Contemporary Club Dancer”. In Ballroom, Boogie, Shimmy Sham, Shake: A Social and Popular Dance Reader, ed. Julie Malnig. University of Illinois Press, 2009. p. 204
  15. Papenburg, Jens Gerrit. "Enhanced Bass" in Sound as Popular Culture: A Research Companion, edited by Jens Gerrit Papenburg, Holger Schulze. MIT Press, 2016. p. 210
  16. Papenburg, Jens Gerrit. "Enhanced Bass" in Sound as Popular Culture: A Research Companion, edited by Jens Gerrit Papenburg, Holger Schulze. MIT Press, 2016. p. 210
  17. Salkind, Micah. Do You Remember House?: Chicago's Queer of Color Undergrounds. Oxford University Press, 2018 p. 60-61
  18. Fink, Robert. "Below 100 Hz: Towards a Musicology of Bass Culture". In The Relentless Pursuit of Tone: Timbre in Popular Music, eds. Fink, Robert; Latour, Melinda; Wallmark, Zachary.. Oxford University Press, 2018. p. 104-105
  19. Henriques, Julian. Sonic Bodies: Reggae Sound Systems, Performance Techniques, and Ways of Knowing. Bloomsbury.
  20. Fink, Robert. "Below 100 Hz: Towards a Musicology of Bass Culture". In The Relentless Pursuit of Tone: Timbre in Popular Music, eds. Fink, Robert; Latour, Melinda; Wallmark, Zachary.. Oxford University Press, 2018. p. 104-105
  21. Burrell, Ian (11 July 2012). "One love: Traditional sound systems 'stringing up' in the English countryside". Independent. Retrieved 1 January 2019.
  22. Stanley Niaah, Sonia (2010) DanceHall: From Slave Ship to Ghetto, University of Ottawa Press, ISBN   978-0776607368, p. 103
  23. "About Sensurround". The 70mm Newsletter. January 26, 2010. Archived from the original on February 9, 2010. Retrieved April 24, 2010.

Further reading

Related Research Articles

Double bass Acoustic stringed instrument of the violin family

The double bass, also known simply as the bass, is the largest and lowest-pitched bowed string instrument in the modern symphony orchestra. The Double bass has a similar structure to the cello.

Funk is a music genre that originated in African American communities in the mid-1960s when musicians created a rhythmic, danceable new form of music through a mixture of soul, jazz, and rhythm and blues (R&B). It de-emphasizes melody and chord progressions and focuses on a strong rhythmic groove of a bassline played by an electric bassist and a drum part played by a percussionist, often at slower tempos than other popular music. Like much of African-inspired music, funk typically consists of a complex groove with rhythm instruments playing interlocking grooves that create a "hypnotic" and "danceable" feel. Funk uses the same richly colored extended chords found in bebop jazz, such as minor chords with added sevenths and elevenths, or dominant seventh chords with altered ninths and thirteenths.

Subwoofer Loudspeaker designed to reproduce low-pitched audio frequencies

A subwoofer is a loudspeaker designed to reproduce low-pitched audio frequencies known as bass and sub-bass, lower in frequency than those which can be (optimally) generated by a woofer. The typical frequency range for a subwoofer is about 20–200 Hz for consumer products, below 100 Hz for professional live sound, and below 80 Hz in THX-certified systems. Subwoofers are never used alone, as they are intended to augment the low-frequency range of loudspeakers that cover the higher frequency bands. While the term "subwoofer" technically only refers to the speaker driver, in common parlance, the term often refers to a subwoofer driver mounted in a speaker enclosure (cabinet), often with a built-in amplifier.

This is an alphabetical index of articles related to music.

The low-frequency effects (LFE) channel is a band-limited audio track that is used for reproducing deep and intense low-frequency sounds in the 3–120 Hz frequency range.

Instrument amplifier

An instrument amplifier is an electronic device that converts the often barely audible or purely electronic signal of a musical instrument into a larger electronic signal to feed to a loudspeaker. An instrument amplifier is used with musical instruments such as an electric guitar, an electric bass, electric organ, synthesizers and drum machine to convert the signal from the pickup or other sound source into an electronic signal that has enough power, due to being routed through a power amplifier, capable of driving one or more loudspeaker that can be heard by the performers and audience.

Bassline Low-pitched instrumental part

A bassline is the term used in many styles of music, such as jazz, blues, funk, dub and electronic, traditional music, or classical music for the low-pitched instrumental part or line played by a rhythm section instrument such as the electric bass, double bass, cello, tuba or keyboard.

Accompaniment Musical parts which provide the rhythmic and/or harmonic support for the melody or main themes of a song or instrumental piece

Accompaniment is the musical part which provides the rhythmic and/or harmonic support for the melody or main themes of a song or instrumental piece. There are many different styles and types of accompaniment in different genres and styles of music. In homophonic music, the main accompaniment approach used in popular music, a clear vocal melody is supported by subordinate chords. In popular music and traditional music, the accompaniment parts typically provide the "beat" for the music and outline the chord progression of the song or instrumental piece.

Rhythm section

A rhythm section is a group of musicians within a music ensemble or band that provides the underlying rhythm, harmony and pulse of the accompaniment, providing a rhythmic and harmonic reference and "beat" for the rest of the band. The rhythm section is often contrasted with the roles of other musicians in the band, such as the lead guitarist or lead vocals whose primary job is to carry the melody.

Jazz bass

Jazz bass is the use of the double bass or bass guitar to improvise accompaniment ("comping") basslines and solos in a jazz or jazz fusion style. Players began using the double bass in jazz in the 1890s to supply the low-pitched walking basslines that outlined the chord progressions of the songs. From the 1920s and 1930s Swing and big band era, through 1940s Bebop and 1950s Hard Bop, to the 1960s-era "free jazz" movement, the resonant, woody sound of the double bass anchored everything from small jazz combos to large jazz big bands.

Sensurround is the brand name for a process developed by Cerwin-Vega in conjunction with Universal Studios to enhance the audio experience during film screenings, specifically for the 1974 film Earthquake. The process was intended for subsequent use and was adopted for four more films, Midway (1976), Rollercoaster (1977), the theatrical version of Saga of a Star World (1978), the Battlestar Galactica pilot, as well as the compilation film Mission Galactica: The Cylon Attack (1979). Sensurround worked by adding extended-range bass for sound effects. The low-frequency sounds were more felt than heard, providing a vivid complement to onscreen depictions of earth tremors, bomber formations, and amusement park rides. The overall trend toward "multiplex" cinema structures presented challenges that made Sensurround impractical as a permanent feature of cinema.

Bass pedals

Bass pedals are an electronic musical instrument with a foot-operated pedal keyboard with a range of one or more octaves. The earliest bass pedals from the 1970s consisted of a pedalboard and analog synthesizer tone generation circuitry packaged together as a unit. The bass pedals are plugged into a bass amplifier or PA system so that their sound can be heard. Since the 1990s, bass pedals are usually MIDI controllers, which have to be connected to a MIDI-compatible computer, electronic synthesizer keyboard, or synth module to produce musical tones. Some 2010s-era bass pedals have both an onboard synth module and a MIDI output.


Sub-bass sounds are the deep, low-register pitches below approximately 60 Hz (C2 in scientific pitch notation) and extending downward to include the lowest frequency humans can hear, approximately 20 Hz (E0).

Bass amplifier

A bass amplifier or "bass amp" is a musical instrument electronic device that uses electrical power to make lower-pitched instruments such as the bass guitar or double bass loud enough to be heard by the performers and audience. Bass amps typically consist of a preamplifier, tone controls, a power amplifier and one or more loudspeakers ("drivers") in a cabinet.

Cerwin-Vega is a brand name used on products for professional audio components, as well as home audio speakers, and car audio components. Originally a stand-alone company, Cerwin-Vega was acquired by the Stanton Group after declaring bankruptcy in 2003. Then, in 2007 Stanton sold off the mobile products division to CVM Acquisition Services LLC.

A subharmonic synthesizer is a device or system that generates subharmonics of an input signal. The nth subharmonic of a signal of fundamental frequency F is a signal with frequency F/n. This differs from ordinary harmonics, where the nth harmonic of fundamental frequency F is a signal of frequency nF.

Glossary of jazz and popular music List of definitions of terms and jargon used in jazz and popular music

This is a list of jazz and popular music terms that are likely to be encountered in printed popular music songbooks, fake books and vocal scores, big band scores, jazz, and rock concert reviews, and album liner notes. This glossary includes terms for musical instruments, playing or singing techniques, amplifiers, effects units, sound reinforcement equipment, and recording gear and techniques which are widely used in jazz and popular music. Most of the terms are in English, but in some cases, terms from other languages are encountered.

Keyboard amplifier

A keyboard amplifier is a powered electronic amplifier and loudspeaker in a wooden speaker cabinet used for amplification of electronic keyboard instruments. Keyboard amplifiers are distinct from other types of amplification systems such as guitar amplifiers due to the particular challenges associated with making keyboards sound louder on stage; namely, to provide solid low-frequency sound reproduction for the deep basslines which keyboards can play and crisp high-frequency sound for the high-register notes. Another difference between keyboard amplifiers and guitar/bass amplifiers is that keyboard amps are usually designed with a relatively flat frequency response and low distortion. In contrast, many guitar and bass amp designers purposely make their amplifiers modify the frequency response, typically to "roll off" very high frequencies, and most rock and blues guitar amps, and since the 1980s and 1990s, even many bass amps are designed to add distortion or overdrive to the instrument tone.

Thomas J. Danley is an American audio engineer, electrical engineer and inventor, the holder of multiple patents for audio transducers, especially high-linearity, high-output professional horn loudspeaker systems. Danley first gained notice in the 1980s with his novel servomotor-driven subwoofer systems used to reproduce very low frequencies in concert tours and theme parks. In 2000 he advanced the implementation of multiple-entry horns in 2000 with several designs led by the SPL-td1, a seven-driver loudspeaker. In 2005, he started a new company, Danley Sound Labs, through which he patented further technologies and produced a wide variety of loudspeaker models based on these technologies.